[VIEWPOINT]A cease-fire, but not peaceAt last, the problems of Goguryeo history were settled, on the day of the 12th anniversary of South Korea-China diplomatic relations. Unlike previous years, we could not find a friendly atmosphere in special reports on China in the daily newspapers.
This indicates how much China’s distortion of history shocked us. The distortion may have caused a big loss to China too. In this respect, the settlement will help alleviate the unfriendly sentiment between the two countries. We obtained some results in the sense that we moved a rock that was not likely to budge at all.
The contents of the agreement can be summarized in two points. The first is that China will not intervene politically in the Goguryeo history problem, and the second is that China will make efforts to offer academic exchanges. But both of these contents are doubtful promises.
I heard four years ago that guidelines were given to erase from Chinese texts and dictionaries anything that described Goguryeo as Korean history. The Chinese government had already begun to tamper secretly with the Goguryeo problem and the “Northeast Asia project” that emerged later is merely a project that has come to the surface.
Nevertheless, the Chinese government denied its intervention and explained that it was a matter of academic dimensions, and our government accepted that explanation naively. The fact that the government dispatched a special envoy to make this agreement proves, to the contrary, that the fundamental nature of the history problem is a political matter.
Because there is a precedent, in that the agreement entered with Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Wang Yi in February was broken in July, there is no knowing when the understanding made this time will fail again. We should never be at ease.
Rather, the agreement should be accepted to mean that the Chinese government would carry out its project even more secretly from now on. China will never be able to give up because this issue is related to its policy for the Korean Peninsula.
Academic exchanges are also a problem. Although it argued that the Goguryeo problem should be resolved in an academic dimension, the Chinese government did not send any scholars to academic conferences held by Korea until now. A senior Chinese scholar was invited to give a special lecture on Balhae history at a Japanese college, but he could not get permission to attend. What is the use of saying that scholars will settle the problem while closing its door this way?
On a trip to China in early August, I found a newsletter on the Northeast Asia project and soon found in it a thesis that refuted my writing. So I asked an officer if I could copy the thesis, but the officer replied that it was not allowed because the newsletter was for internal circulation only. How could China induce open-minded research with this closed attitude?
The recent settlement may lead to temporary exchanges of researchers between the two countries. But unless the foundation for constant exchanges is laid by entering into an agreement on academic exchanges, the exchanges will end up being mere demonstration projects. Our researchers on Goguryeo and Balhae are stealthily visiting historical sites in Manchuria like thieves for fear of being noticed. They cannot even approach excavation sites, much less set up joint excavations of ruins.
When I stopped at a museum, the curator at once asked me not to look at the Goguryeo remains. In this closed situation, academic exchanges and discussion can never be made properly.
In addition, as shown in the negotiations, we should realize that tactless nationalism can only bring about a counterattack. Just as we cannot tolerate Japanese people climbing up onto Tokto and shouting that it is theirs, tourists to Manchuria should respect the Chinese without losing their calm.
The most important measure of all is to train scholars. The reason for the shortage of scholars in this field is that not only getting a job, but also purchasing research materials, can be big obstacles.
My headache is that my office is filled with too many books. What a waste it is for each researcher to buy materials individually. A project to integrate and distribute results from studies in China is urgently needed. Researchers can multiply when they are systematically and constantly provided with materials.
The recent events happened because we did not know China well.
* The writer is a professor of history at Seoul National University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Song Ki-ho